It's immensely satisfying to be in the front seat to watch a writer grow. I've seen it quite a few times before, and now I am doing so with Jonathan Janz.
Janz came into my radar with a novel called The Sorrows. The Sorrows was done by a major publisher, Samhain, and it was well received by the horror fiction community. I did not know Jonathan at the time, but I try to make a point to check out the rising new names of the genre.
To be honest, I liked The Sorrows. I thought it was a good book. Especially considering that it is a debut novel. Great? Not exactly, but there's no shame in that. First novels by critical and popular favorites like Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Garton, Robert McCammon, and even Stephen King show talent in development. Not everyone can be a Dan Simmons or a Jack Ketchum, and knock a first novel straight outta the ballpark.
But, yes, The Sorrows is a solid effort. I happily added a new name to the list of authors I regularly read.
The next books came along at a steady clip. House of Skin, which like The Sorrows, is a haunted house story. A Laymonesque gorefest called Savage Species. A methodically-paced thriller called The Darkest Lullaby. A sequel to The Sorrows entitled Castle of Sorrows. A fun weird western romp by the name of Dust Devils. The Nightmare Girl, which is a gutsy thriller with echoes of Joe Lansdale. A werewolf yarn with the appropriate title, Wolf Land.
All enjoyable works of good old fashioned horror fiction with a common thread of careful writing and credible characters. Looking at these books is like seeing a writer climb a ladder. With each step Jonathan Janz has surer footing, more confident prose, and greater success as a storyteller.
I have the good fortune of knowing Jonathan Janz in the real world. He's one of those guys you meet and instantly you have a brand new lifelong friend. I knew almost from the very start that he would be one of the big ones, and not just one of the good ones. Here are some reasons why I had that conviction:
Jonathan Janz is a genuinely good, humble individual. Most of us have seen the cocky types come, and we've seen them go. Despite already having an enviable oeuvre and an ever-growing fanbase, he remains a self effacing, modest individual.
Jonathan Janz reads. As all writers should do. He doesn't just read your basic King/Hill/Barker bunch, nor does he limit himself to the Keene/Ketchum/Laymon/Lee people. He does read all of this stuff, and well he should if he intents to compete in the current horror fiction arena. But Jonathan also reads the classics of the field, like John Farris, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Charles L. Grant. Not only that, he reads outside the genre, which is just as important as reading Matheson and Bradbury. Like a bodybuilder getting in shape, this is how a writer builds his or her literary muscles.
Jonathan Janz works his ass off. He has a full time job, is a dedicated family man, plus he averages around two books a year. Always wanted to be a writer, but can't seem to find the time to do so? Don't tell that to Jonathan Janz.
Jonathan Janz continues to grow and to take chances. He isn't writing the same book with rearranged plot and character details.
Jonathan Janz had a lucrative situation with editor Don D'Auria and Samhain Publishing. They were doing nice editions of his material, and everything seemed to be going well. And then all of that fell apart. Certainly he was intimidated by this unfortunate turn of events, but Janz is rapidly proving himself more than capable of continuing his career.
Which brings us to the latest novel from Jonathan Janz. Sinister Grin Press was fortunate enough to get to publish Children of the Dark, which is in my opinion the best piece of fiction he has given his readers to date.
Children of the Dark reads like a young adult book. There are shades of Stand By Me, Summer of Night, Boy's Life, in its pages. I bring up influences here and above, and Janz has obviously learned from the masters he has read, but his own voice is sounding louder and clearer all the time.
I have sort of a litmus test for horror novels. While reading one, I will ask myself if I would be interesting in reading it if there were no horrific elements to the story. In the case of Children of the Dark, the answer is a resounding yes. The youthful characters in the novel are likable and I'd be more than happy to read about them indulging in the usual proclivities of average kids.
But Children of the Dark is most assuredly a horror novel. I don't like to give too much away in a review, but Janz isn't content to plague his characters--and his readers-- with merely one menace. We get monsters and a homicidal maniac in Children of the Dark.
Janz seems so comfortable with his young characters that I would love to see him tackle a full-out YA novel. It would be great for him to pull a Jeff Strand and alternate between full-blown horror and fun young adult fiction.
In whatever direction Jonathan Janz elects to go with his writing, you can bet I will be there to follow him. And I will be far from the only one to do so.